Thursday, July 7, 2011

Phil Senter does it again

And this time, he's attracted quite a bit of attention. His latest paper Using creation science to demonstrate evolution 2: morphological continuity within Dinosauria is nicely summarized by Paul Garner at his blog. Paul says:
In the new paper, Senter applied distance correlation to even larger datasets, and concluded that indeed morphological discontinuities were found that appeared to distinguish eight dinosaur kinds. However, he suggests that this raises other problems for creationists, namely: (1) that the diversity within these kinds is enormous and extreme, (2) that some morphological gaps appear to have been filled by subsequent fossil discoveries, (3) that at least one morphological gap identified by Todd Wood was filled when using more extensive datasets from existing museum specimens, and (4) that the basal members of all the major dinosaur lineages appear to be morphologically continuous.

Senter's paper has been highlighted by the BBC (Wonder Monkey, which has spawned more than 850 comments at this writing) and PZ Myers (Pharyngula and Panda's Thumb). The comments at Panda's Thumb are definitely worth reading, especially John Harshman, from which I quote here:
...the biggest problem with baraminology (aside from the creationist assumption) is that they make not even an attempt to justify their methods, empirically or theoretically. Why do discontinuities distinguish baramins? We don’t know. Why discontinuities of a particular size, when even baraminology would imply discontinuities within baramins? We don’t know. I take this as a clue that deep down, even the best of them, e.g. Todd Wood, suspect that they are just going through the motions in imitation of science. Maybe Phil Senter might consider these questions if he wants to try it again.
Those are some very important issues that definitely need addressing.

My long-time readers know that I'm not one to just kneejerk a response, but my first impressions after reading Senter's conclusion is that there's a lot of confusion about what statistical baraminology can and can't do. And that's my fault, so shame on me. I'll be mulling over my response to these confusions in the near future. Meanwhile, oddly enough, part of my response to Harshman's question will be published tomorrow. Strange timing eh? Check back in then for my comments on the "discontinuity hypothesis."

Also note that we'll be discussing dinosaur baraminology at Origins 2011, where we will no doubt have some comments on Senter's paper.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.